The Bubble Blog » The Eyes Have It
The Eyes Have It
Posted on November 06, 2009 by freshwater
One of the lessons I learned at Bailey Chicken Camps is that calm, still trainers get better results than fidgety, noisy trainers. I try to remind myself of that daily.

The goal of any animal in training is to take the straightest, quickest road from "do something" to "collect a reward." Unlike the human male, most animals would be very willing to ask for explicit directions to that Disneyland of destinations — the treat — if they could. But they can't ask, so instead they search for every possible road sign and follow it.

The problem is, some of these signs are wrong. And some of these wrong signs are being hammered into the highway shoulder by the trainer, inadvertently. It's easy to forget just how intensely perceptive animals can be. But make no mistake, they watch the trainer's every move, hoping for some sort of information about what to do next.

I have found that goldfish are very perceptive about the trainer's eyes. (Not suprising in a species hardwired to notice when something large and potentially piscivorous is watching them.) They watch me to see where I'm looking, and sometimes interpret that information as the road map they seek. I was reminded of this yesterday in my weave pole training session with Clem. He was doing relatively well in navigating four poles. He seemed to understand the pattern, but then would apparently suddenly doubt what he thought he knew, and go gravel surf in frustration. I came to realize that I had been moving my eyes as he went through the weave gates, shifting the focus of my gaze. He had been following my eyes as if they were the tail lights of the car in front of him on this confusing, twisty highway. My gaze had become an inadvertent cue. And since I wasn't purposely using my eye movement to cue the steps of his journey through the weaves, I probably had been sending a plethora of contradictory directions.

So now I am being careful to focus on a neutral spot of the tank wall as he moves through the weaves. He's a little annoyed with me right now for snatching his very inaccurate road map, but he has to learn find his own way. I think we're both up to the challenge.